Sunday, June 11, 2017

On Bertrand Russell's The Conquest of Happiness

Some  Russell quotations have been floating around lately, so I read The Conquest of Happiness, first published in 1930, and, boy, did I need this right now! The main ideas and some bits I liked are below by chapter. The book is really just a mix of Stoicism and Epicureanism, so you could just read that instead, but they're not nearly as palatable. This summary is really long, but not nearly as long as the book!

Part I: Causes of Unhappiness

1: What Makes People Unhappy? 

This chapter has some racist bit, but I imagine he was still more progressive than most at the time. We won't throw the baby out with the bathwater at any rate. He raises his thesis here: we can only be happy by being prudent with desires and by focusing outward. 

"I enjoy life; I might almost say that with every year that passes I enjoy it more. This is due partly to having discovered what were the things that I most desired and having gradually acquired many of these things. Partly it is due to having successfully dismissed certain objects of desire - such as the acquisition of indubitable knowledge about something or other - as essentially unattainable. But very largely it is due to a diminishing preoccupation with myself. Like others who had a Puritan education, I had the habit of meditating on my sins, follies, and shortcomings. I seemed to myself - no doubt justly - a miserable specimen. Gradually I learned to be indifferent to myself and my deficiencies; I came to centre my attention increasingly upon external objects: the state of the world, various branches of knowledge, individuals for whom I felt affection."
It adds credence to the idea - which seemed a much more recent problem, but apparently not - that anxiety is increasing because we've become obsessed with our own identity formation.
"Self-absorption is of various kinds. We may take the sinner, the narcissist, and the megalomaniac as three very common types. When I speak of "the sinner," I do not mean the man who commits sins: sins are committed by every one or no one, according to our definition of the word. I mean the man who is absorbed in the consciousness of sin. This man is perpetually incurring his own disapproval, which, if he is religious, he interprets as the disapproval of God. He has an image of himself as he thinks he ought to be, which is in continual conflict with his knowledge of himself as he is....Narcissism is, in a sense, the converse of an habitual sense of sin; it consists in the habit of admiring oneself and wishing to be admired....When vanity is carried to this height, there is no genuine interest in any other person, and therefore no real satisfaction to be obtained from love....The megalomaniac differs from the narcissist by the fact that he wishes to be powerful rather than charming, and seeks to be feared rather than loved. To this type belong many lunatics and most of the great men in history." 
So, we've got maybe Leslie Knope (sorry if you love her), the Mean Girls / asshole guys movie tropes, and, of course, Trump. Then Russell gets a bit Freudian (which he does here and there throughout) in searching for a cause for these three ailments: It's all because of something lacking in childhood, and escapism is the only other option.
The psychological causes of unhappiness, it is clear, are many and various. But all have something in common. The typical unhappy man is one who, having been deprived in youth of some normal satisfaction, has come to value this one kind of satisfaction more than any other, and has therefore given to his life a one-sided direction, together with a quite undue emphasis upon the achievement as opposed to the activities connected with it. There is, however, a further development which is very common in the present day. A man may feel so completely thwarted that he seeks no form of satisfaction, but only distraction and oblivion. He then becomes a devotee of 'pleasure'. That is to say he seeks to make life bearable by becoming less alive. Drunkenness, for example, is temporary suicide; the happiness that it brings is merely negative, a momentary cessation of unhappiness.

2: Byronic Unhappiness

It appears that, at the time, the intellectual crowds came to the conclusion that misery was a byproduct of brilliance. But Russell disagrees with a line almost lifted from Epicurus.
"This view is too simple; undoubtedly there is some slight compensation in the feeling of superiority and insight which these sufferers have, but it is not sufficient to make up for the loss of simpler pleasures. I do not myself think that there is any superior rationality in being unhappy. The wise man will be as happy as circumstances permit and if he finds the contemplation of the universe painful beyond a point, he will contemplate something else instead. . . . the truth is that they are unhappy for some reason of which they are not aware, and this unhappiness leads them to dwell upon the less agreeable characteristics of the world in which they live."
But then he touched on something discussed more and more now: the concern with getting things too easily in life:
"We must distinguish between a mood and its intellectual expression. There is no arguing with a mood; it can be changed by some fortunate event, or by a change in our bodily condition, but it cannot be changed by argument. . . . The feeling [of vanity] is one born of a too easy satisfaction of natural needs. The human animal, like others, is adapted to a certain amount of struggle for life, and when by means of great wealth homo sapiens can gratify all his whims without effort, the mere absence of effort from his life removes an essential ingredient of happiness."
He cautions against relationships, parental or otherwise, that protect self-esteem to the point of thwarting personal growth:
"A couple may form, as the Brownings did, a mutual admiration society. It is very pleasant to have someone at hand who is sure to praise your work, whether it deserves it or not....I cannot feel that this complete suspension of the critical faculty on both sides is really admirable. It is bound up with fear and with the desire to find a refuge from the cold blasts of impartial criticism. . . . the kind of love that I can believe in is not the kind that the Victorians admired; it is adventurous and open-eyed, and, while it gives knowledge of good, it does not involve forgetfulness of evil, nor does it pretend to be sanctified or holy."
A thread seen throughout is the necessity of connection with others, and he criticizes the Stoics and Christians for implying that interpersonal communion isn't of the highest value in life:
"Man depends upon cooperation, and has been provided by nature, somewhat inadequately, it is true, with the instinctive apparatus out of which the friendliness required for cooperation can spring. Love is the first and commonest form of emotion leading to cooperation, and those who have experienced love with any intensity will not be content with a philosophy that supposes their highest good to be independent of that of the person loved."

3: Competition 

Greed destroys happiness. People complain about their daily grind, but it's not that difficult to survive. What's difficult is getting enough to impress everyone around us.
"What people mean, therefore, by the struggle for life is really the struggle for success. What people fear when they engage in the struggle is not that they will fail to get their breakfast next morning, but that they will fail to outshine their neighbours. It is very singular how little men seem to realise that they are not caught in the grip of a mechanism from which there is no escape, but that the treadmill is one upon which they remain merely because they have not noticed that it fails to take them up to a higher level....The root of the trouble springs from too much emphasis upon competitive success as the main source of happiness....The source of this trouble is the prevalent philosophy of life in business circles."
And this is because of the value system taught to us in school - a shift away from the arts for pleasure and towards knowledge of art as a commodity:
Education used to be conceived very largely as a training in the capacity for enjoyment - enjoyment, I mean, of those more delicate kinds that are not open to wholly uncultivated people. In the eighteenth century it was one of the marks of a 'gentleman' to take a discriminating pleasure in literature, pictures, and music. We nowadays may disagree with his taste, but it was at least genuine. The rich man of the present day tends to be of quite a different type. He never reads. If he is creating a picture gallery with a view to enhancing his fame, he relies upon experts to choose his pictures; the pleasure that he derives from them is not the pleasure of looking at them, but the pleasure of preventing some other rich man from having them....There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it. It has become the thing in America for ladies to read (or seem to read) certain books every month; some read them, some read the first chapter, some read the reviews, but all have these books on their tables. They do not, however, read any masterpieces. There has never been a month when Hamlet or King Lear has been selected by the Book Clubs; there has never been a month when it has been necessary to know about Dante. Consequently the reading that is done is entirely of mediocre modern books and never of masterpieces.
The result is that we have greater leisure time, but we've lost the skill to use it wisely. We're just passively entertained rather than passionately enticed by images and ideas.
Men and women appear to have become incapable of enjoying the more intellectual pleasures. The art of general conversation, for example, brought to perfection in the French salons of the eighteenth century, was still a living tradition forty years ago. It was a very exquisite art, bringing the highest faculties into play for the sake of something completely evanescent. But who in our age cares for anything so leisurely?...All the quieter pleasures have been abandoned....Competition considered as the main thing in life is too grim, too tenacious, too much a matter of taut muscles and intent will, to make a possible basis of life for more than one or two generations at most. After that length of time it must produce nervous fatigue, various phenomena of escape, a pursuit of pleasures as tense and as difficult as work (since relaxing has become impossible), and in the end a disappearance of the stock through sterility.

4: Boredom and Excitement 

Boredom is a great motivator, but it can lead towards good or evil - like the witch-hunts as a "sport by which winter evenings could be enlivened." When we're bored, we may be more likely to invent a conflict just to entertain ourselves.
We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom. We have come to know, or rather to believe, that boredom is not part of the natural lot of man, but can be avoided by a sufficiently vigorous pursuit of excitement....Young men and young women meet each other with much less difficulty than was formerly the case, and every housemaid expects at least once a week as much excitement as would have lasted a Jane Austen heroine throughout a whole novel.
People seek excitement in a variety of ways. The type of excitement is less important than the quantity. We need periods of restraint or whatever excites us will lose its thrill, and we'll need more and more to enjoy a simple day.
I am not prepared to say that drugs can play no good part in life whatsoever. There are moments, for example, when an opiate will be prescribed by a wise physician, and I think these moments more frequent than prohibitionists suppose. But the craving for drugs is certainly something which cannot be left to the unfettered operation of natural impulse. And the kind of boredom which the person accustomed to drugs experiences when deprived of them is something for which I can suggest no remedy except time. Now what applies to drugs applies also, within limits, to every kind of excitement. A life too full of excitement is an exhausting life, in which continually stronger stimuli are needed to give the thrill that has come to be thought an essential part of pleasure. A person accustomed to too much excitement is like a person with a morbid craving for pepper, who comes last to be unable even to taste a quantity of pepper which would cause anyone else to choke. There is an element of boredom which is inseparable from the avoidance of too much excitement, and too much excitement not only undermines the health, but dulls the palate for every kind of pleasure, substituting titillations for profound organic satisfactions, cleverness for wisdom, and jagged surprises for beauty. I do not want to push to extremes the objection to excitement. A certain amount of it is wholesome, but, like almost everything else, the matter is quantitative. Too little may produce morbid cravings, too much will produce exhaustion. A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life, and is one of the things that ought to be taught to the young.
And then we're back to blaming upbringing. I can only imagine how disappointed he'd be with how constantly children are passively entertained today!
"The capacity to endure a more or less monotonous life is one which should be acquired in childhood. Modern parents are greatly to blame in this respect; they provide their children with far too many passive amusements, such as shows and good things to eat, and they do not realise the importance to a child of having one day like another, except, of course, for somewhat rare occasions....Pleasures which are exciting and at the same time involve no physical exertion, such, for example, as the theatre, should occur very rarely. The excitement is in the nature of a drug, of which more and more will come to be required, and the physical passivity during the excitement is contrary to instinct."
And then he throws in a little on the hollowness of sex as entertainment:
"Or, again, consider the difference between love and mere sex attraction. Love is an experience in which our whole being is renewed and refreshed as is that of plants by rain after drought. In sex intercourse without love there is nothing of this. When the momentary pleasure is ended, there is fatigue, disgust, and a sense that life is hollow. Love is part of the life of Earth; sex without love is not."

5: Fatigue 

Russell cautions against too much hard labour. This is the guy who advocated for the 4-day work week.
"Purely physical fatigue, provided it is not excessive, tends if anything to be a cause of happiness; it leads to sound sleep and a good appetite, and gives zest to the pleasures that are possible on holidays. But when it is excessive it becomes a very grave evil. . . . Physical labour carried beyond a certain point is atrocious torture, and it has very frequently been carried so far as to make life all but unbearable. . . . The kind of fatigue that is most serious in the present day in advanced communities is nervous fatigue. This kind, oddly enough, is most pronounced among the well-to-do, and tends to be much less among wage-earners than it is among business men and brain-workers."
Other fatiguing stimuli like constant noise, presence of strangers, or fear of losing our jobs or family, all create a society full of nervous wrecks. We become "so accustomed to anxiety that he cannot shake off the habit of it when the need for it is past." But we can counter this with a good attitude.
"The wise man thinks about his troubles only when there is some purpose in doing so; at other times he thinks about other things, or, if it is night, about nothing at all. . . . It is amazing how much both happiness and efficiency can be increased by the cultivation of an orderly mind, which thinks about a matter adequately at the right time rather than inadequately at all times....Nothing is so exhausting as indecision, and nothing is so futile....One of the worst features of nervous fatigue is that it acts as a sort of screen between a man and the outside world. Impressions reach him, as it were, muffled and muted; he no longer notices people except to be irritated by small tricks or mannerisms; he derives no pleasure from his meals or from the sunshine, but tends to become tensely concentrated upon a few objects and indifferent to all the rest. This state of affairs makes it impossible to rest, so that fatigue continually increases until it reaches a point where medical treatment is required."
He used stoic practices (now we'd call it CBT) when he was so terrified of giving a speech that he hoped to break a leg instead:
"Gradually I taught myself to feel that it did not matter whether I spoke well or ill, the universe would remain much the same in either case. I found that the less I cared whether I spoke well or badly, the less badly I spoke, and gradually the nervous strain diminished almost to vanishing point....Even great sorrows can be survived; troubles which seem as if they must put an end to happiness for life fade with the lapse of time until it becomes almost impossible to remember their poignancy. But over and above these self-centred considerations is the fact that one's ego is no very large part of the world. The man who can centre his thoughts and hopes upon something transcending self can find a certain peace in the ordinary troubles of life which is impossible to the pure egoist....My own belief is that a conscious thought can be planted into the unconscious if a sufficient amount of vigour and intensity is put into it....A man who has learnt not to feel fear will find the fatigue of daily life enormously diminished....The effort of turning away one's thoughts is a tribute to the horribleness of the spectre from which one is averting one's gaze; the proper course with every kind of fear is to think about it rationally and calmly, but with great concentration, until it has become completely familiar. In the end familiarity will blunt its terrors; the whole subject will become boring, and our thoughts will turn away from it, not, as formerly, by an effort of will, but through mere lack of interest in the topic."
We have to shift our values to embrace and applaud courage again to face our difficulties:
"A woman who is courageous has to conceal the fact if she wishes men to like her. The man who is courageous in any matter except physical danger is also thought ill of. Indifference to public opinion, for example, is regarded as a challenge, and the public does what it can to punish the man who dares to flout its authority. All this is quite opposite to what it should be. Every form of courage, whether in men or women, should be admired as much as physical courage is admired in a soldier."

6: Envy

Envy is the basis of democracy. We want equality of all so we don't have to do as much work as another. This is the crabs-in-a-bucket phenomenon. I don't want to work as much as other so it's easier to drag them down to my level than to do the work it would take to reach their heights.
"The love of scandal is an expression of this general malevolence: any story against another woman is instantly believed, even on the flimsiest evidence....Exactly the same thing, however, is to be observed among men, except that women regard all other women as their competitors, whereas men as a rule only have this feeling towards other men in the same profession....Have you ever praised a politician to another politician of the same party?...If you have, it is a hundred to one that you will have produced an explosion of jealousy....Instead of deriving pleasure from what he has, he derives pain from what others have. If he can, he deprives others of their advantages, which to him is as desirable as it would be to secure the same advantages himself."
It's in comparing ourselves to others that we develop a sense of happiness-destroying envy. Again, it all starts in childhood:
"Envy is itself a terrible obstacle to happiness. I think envy is immensely promoted by misfortunes in childhood. The child who finds a brother or sister preferred before himself acquires the habit of envy, and when he goes out into the world looks for injustices of which he is the victim, perceives them at once if they occur, and imagines them if they do not....Merely to realise the causes of one's own envious feelings is to take a long step towards curing them. The habit of thinking in terms of comparisons is a fatal one. When anything pleasant occurs it should be enjoyed to the full, without stopping to think that it is not so pleasant as something else that may possibly be happening to someone else....With the wise man, what he has does not cease to be enjoyable because someone else has something else. Envy, in fact, is one form of a vice, partly moral, partly intellectual, which consists in seeing things never in themselves, but only in their relations....You cannot, therefore, get away from envy by means of success alone, for there will always be in history or legend some person even more successful than you are. You can get away from envy by enjoying the pleasures that come your way, by doing the work that you have to do, and by avoiding comparisons with those whom you imagine, perhaps quite falsely, to be more fortunate than yourself."
But this is an important one not just for our own happiness, but for the health of society in general. His claims a prescient warning now that we have knowledge and access to people worldwide:
"If there is to be less envy, means must be found for remedying this state of affairs, and if no such means are found our civilisation is in danger of going down to destruction in an orgy of hatred. In old days people only envied their neighbours, because they knew little about anyone else. Now through education and the Press they know much in an abstract way about large classes of mankind of whom no single individual is among their acquaintance. Through the movies they think they know how the rich live, through the newspapers they know much of the wickedness of foreign nations, through propaganda they know of the nefarious practices of all whose skin has a pigmentation different from their own."

7: The Sense of Sin
"The word 'conscience' covers, as a matter of fact, several different feelings; the simplest of these is the fear of being found out. You, reader, have, I am sure, lived a completely blameless life, but if you will ask someone who has at some time acted in a manner for which he would be punished if it became known, you will find that, when discovery seemed imminent, the person in question repented of his crime."
Harmless pleasures, like sex, have to be divorced from the idea of sin. Even though we might think we've succeeded at this, there's still a measure of truth in this passage:
"The association between sin and the sex organs is so firmly established by the time he is six years old that it is unlikely ever to be completely undone throughout the rest of his life. This feeling is, of course, reinforced by the Oedipus complex, since the woman most loved in childhood is one with whom all sexual freedoms are impossible. The result is that many adult men feel women to be degraded by sex, and cannot respect their wives unless their wives hate sexual intercourse. But the man whose wife is cold will be driven by instinct to seek instinctive satisfaction elsewhere. His instinctive satisfaction, however, even if he momentarily finds it, will be poisoned by the sense of guilt, so that he cannot be happy in any relation with a woman, whether in marriage or outside it. On the woman's side the same sort of thing happens if she has been very emphatically taught to be what is called 'pure'. She instinctively holds herself back in her sexual relations with her husband, and is afraid of deriving any pleasure from them."
And, of course, people who carry around guilt and shame for something completely harmless, have a difficult time finding happiness in life. His views are very similar to Freud's writing (published the same year):
"As a matter of fact the sense of sin, so far from being a cause of s good life, is quite the reverse. It makes a man unhappy and it makes him feel inferior. Being unhappy, he is likely to make claims upon other people which are excessive and which prevent him from enjoying happiness in personal relations. Feeling inferior, he will have a grudge against those who seem superior. He will find admiration difficult and envy easy. He will become a generally disagreeable person, and will find himself more and more solitary. An expansive and generous attitude towards other people not only gives happiness to others, but is an immense source of happiness to its possessor, since it causes him to be generally liked. But such an attitude is scarcely possible to the man haunted by a sense of sin."

8: Persecution Mania

Something else that keeps people from happiness is a concern with people conspiring against them.
"One of the most universal forms of irrationality is the attitude taken by practically everybody towards malicious gossip. Very few people can resist saying malicious things about their acquaintances, and even on occasion about their friends; yet when people hear that anything has been said against themselves, they are filled with indignant amazement. It has apparently never occurred to them that, just as they gossip about everyone else, so everyone else gossips about them....This gives them a wrong sense of proportion, and causes them to attach undue importance to facts which are perhaps exceptional rather than typical."
And he gets at a that selfish type of giving that rarely gets the expected rewards, and he give us four maxims to live by to avoid this misery trap:
"Another not uncommon victim of persecution mania is a certain type of philanthropist who is always doing good to people against their will, and is amazed and horrified that they display no gratitude. Our motives in doing good are seldom as pure as we imagine them to be. Love of power is insidious; it has many disguises, and is often the source of the pleasure we derive from doing what we believe to be good to other people....These illustrations suggest four general maxims, which will prove an adequate preventive of persecution mania if their truth is sufficiently realised. The first is: remember that your motives are not always as altruistic as they seem to yourself. The second is: don't over-estimate your own merits. The third is: don't expect others to take as much interest in you as you do yourself. And the fourth is: don't imagine that most people give enough thought to you to have any special desire to persecute you."

9: Fear of Public Opinion

We all want to be liked, but some people are shunned by people for minor social clumsiness, which affects their happiness. With the right attitude, bucking convention can be accepted, but if you too overtly hope for approval, it will be lost.
"To almost everybody sympathetic surroundings are necessary to happiness. To the majority, of course, the surroundings in which they happen to find themselves are sympathetic. They imbibe current prejudices in youth, and instinctively adapt themselves to the beliefs and customs which they find in existence around them. But to a large minority which includes practically all who have any intellectual or artistic merit, this attitude of acquiescence is impossible....In a good many cases unnecessary timidity makes the trouble worse than it need be. Public opinion is always more tyrannical towards those who obviously fear it than towards those who feel indifferent to it. A dog will bark more loudly and bite more readily when people are afraid of him than when they treat him with contempt, and the human herd has something of this same characteristic. If you show that you are afraid of them, you give promise of good hunting, whereas if you show indifference, they begin to doubt their own power and therefore tend to let you alone....I am thinking, not of such extremes but of much milder lapses from conventionality, such as failure to dress correctly or to belong to some Church or to abstain from reading intelligent books. Such lapses, if they are done with gaiety and insouciance, not defiantly but spontaneously, will come to be tolerated even in the most conventional society. Gradually it may become possible to acquire the position of licensed lunatic, to whom things are permitted which in another man would be thought unforgivable. This is largely a matter of a certain kind of good nature and friendliness."
Picking the right career path can help people fit with the best group of people.
"Wherever possible, therefore, young people who find themselves out of harmony with their surroundings should endeavour in the choice of a profession to select some career which will give them a chance of congenial companionship, even if this should entail a considerable loss of income. Often they hardly know that this is possible, since their knowledge of the world is very limited, and they may easily imagine that the prejudices to which they have become accustomed at home are world-wide. This is a matter in which older men should be able to give much assistance to the young, since a considerable experience of mankind is essential."
And generally, we should try to just ignore public opinion on trifling matters:
"I think that in general, apart from expert opinion, there is too much respect paid to the opinions of others, both in great matters and in small ones. One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways....Fear of public opinion, like every other form of fear, is oppressive and stunts growth. It is difficult to achieve any kind of greatness while a fear of this kind remains strong, and it is impossible to acquire that freedom of spirit in which true happiness consists, for it is essential to happiness that our way of living should spring from our own deep impulses and not from the accidental tastes and desires of those who happen to be our neighbours, or even our relations."

Part II: Causes of Happiness

10: Is Happiness Still Possible?

Like many philosophers before, Russell delineates happiness that's plain and simple ('vulgar' according to Aristotle) from happiness that can only be experienced by the educated. He writes about his gardener's mission to kill rabbits, and  how "the fount of joy is inexhaustible, and it is 'they rabbits' that supply it."

 We're happy when we use our skills and knowledge to do something important to ourselves and others. "Pleasures of achievement demand difficulties such that beforehand success seems doubtful although in the end it is usually achieved." When we think we can do things, but fail, it leads to misery, so we are happier the more we underestimate our abilities. And because we're happier when others understand and appreciate our work, scientists tend to be happier than artists. Except, today, I'm not sure climate scientists are a relatively happy lot.
"Cynicism such as one finds very frequently among the most highly educated young men and women of the West results from the combination of comfort with powerlessness. Powerlessness makes people feel that nothing is worth doing, and comfort makes the painfulness of this feeling just endurable....The happiness of the reformer or revolutionary depends upon the course of public affairs, but probably even while he is being executed he enjoys more real happiness than is possible for the comfortable cynic."
We need to find a way to impress others. He writes of a man without legs who's happy because he's the expert on rose blight. And, like Marx, he recognizes the problem with industrialization leading to alienation from our work. We can be happy crafting tables, but not attaching the same table leg 100 times a day in a factory. We need a sense of accomplishment to be happy.

He also adds here the importance of a strong belief or interest in something - a faith in God or, just as good, in a baseball team. A friendly interest in people without expectation - without hope of having power over them or being admired by them - is also key.

11: Zest

The person who relishes a meal and company, regardless flaws of either, is said to have 'zest':
"The more things a man is interested in, the more opportunities of happiness he has, and the less he is at the mercy of fate, since if he loses one thing he can fall back upon another. Life is too short to be interested in everything, but it is good to be interested in as many things as are necessary to fill our days....Adventurous men enjoy shipwrecks, mutinies, earthquakes, conflagrations, and all kinds of unpleasant experiences, provided they do not go so far as to impair health. They say to themselves in an earthquake, for example, 'So that is what an earthquake is like', and it gives them pleasure to have their knowledge of the world increased by this new item."
We need health, basic income, and social duties fulfilled before obsessing over a singular pleasure. It's okay if we have one obsession if it's socially based (like being a soldier or inventing something useful - even if we never succeed at it). But we can't be happy if our pleasures merely satisfy ourselves.

12: Affection

A lack of zest is because we feel unloved. Feeling loved promotes zest more than anything else. Then he takes a stab at explaining why people are unloved. It's either due to being "such a dreadful person that no one could possibly love him," or "a lack of self-confidence due to early misfortune" in which case they may either make desperate efforts to get attention, seek revenge on the world, or "sink into timid despair relieved only by occasional gleams of envy and malice."

"General self-confidence towards life comes more than anything else from being accustomed to receive as much of the right sort of affection as one has need for." But it's not just affection that matters, but admiration. And, once again, the primary caregiver is key:
"Affection given must be itself robust rather than timid, desiring excellence even more than safety on the part of its object, though of course by no means indifferent to safety. The timid mother...may produce in them a timidity equal to her-own, and may cause them to feel that they are never safe except in her immediate neighbourhood... [and will later seek] "a little haven of refuge from the world, where they can be sure of being admired when they are not admirable, and praised when they are not praiseworthy....a refuge from the truth....Fear for others is only a shade better than fear for ourselves. Moreover it is very often a camouflage for possessiveness. It is hoped that by rousing their fears a more complete empire over them can be obtained."
When we're needy or desperate, we'll love someone without looking at their real value; we'll love the horrid as easily as the honourable. So we have to be careful that we're in the right place to love another or else we could end up with someone harmful to us:
"The best type of affection is reciprocally life-giving; each receives affection with joy and gives it without effort, and each finds the whole world more interesting in consequence of the existence of this reciprocal happiness. There is, however, another kind, by no means uncommon, in which one person sucks the vitality of the other, one receives what the other gives, but gives almost nothing in return. Some very vital people belong to this bloodsucking type. They extract the vitality from one victim after another, but while they prosper and grow interesting, those upon whom they live grow pale and dim and dull. Such people use others as means to their own ends, and never consider them as ends in themselves. Fundamentally they are not interested in those whom for the moment they think they love; they are interested only in the stimulus to their own activities, perhaps of a quite impersonal sort. Evidently this springs from some defect in their nature, but it is one not altogether easy either to diagnose or to cure. It is a characteristic frequently associated with great ambition, and is rooted, I should say, in an unduly one-sided view of what makes human happiness."
But he also points out that people are slow to admire or state admiration for others, which "tends to produce timidity and anger against mankind, since many people miss throughout life what is really a fundamental need." So we should really honestly compliment one another more! And then another bit about sex:
"In sex relations there is very often almost nothing that can be called real affection; not infrequently there is even a fundamental hostility. Each is trying not to give himself or herself away, each is preserving fundamental loneliness, each remains intact and therefore unfructified. In such experiences there is no fundamental value. I do not say that they should be carefully avoided, since the steps necessary to this end would be likely to interfere also with the occasions where a more valuable and profound affection could grow up. But I do say that the only sex relations that have real value are those in which there is no reticence and in which the whole personality of both becomes merged in a new collective personality. Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness."

13: The Family
"This failure of the family to provide the fundamental satisfaction which in principle it is capable of yielding is one of the most deep-seated causes of the discontent which is prevalent in our age."
Um... this chapter might be one to skip. He blames this failure on the bad quality of domestic services, such that intelligent women have to lower themselves to housekeeping. Chores make a woman wearisome to her husband and a nuisance to their kids. So, yup, there's that. And yet, it's still somehow a little relevant:
"This is the most pernicious of all the injustices that she has to suffer: that in consequence of doing her duty by her family she has lost their affection, whereas if she had neglected them and remained gay and charming they would probably have loved her."
He also blames the migration to cities where there's no room for kids to play or for parents to escape their noise. And then there's that lack of slavery because of democracy, which he hastens to add is a good thing, it's just... "It is no use to blink at the fact that, while this transition is in progress it makes the world uncomfortable."

But his discussion of parenting isn't too dissimilar from today's concerns:
"Parents are no longer sure of their rights as against their children; children no longer feel that they owe respect to their parents. The virtue of obedience, which was formerly exacted without question, has become unfashionable, and rightly so. Psycho-analysis has terrified educated parents with the fear of the harm they may unwittingly do their children...Parenthood, which used to be a triumphant exercise of power, has become timid, anxious, and filled with conscientious doubts. The old simple joys are lost."
He's clear that equitable democracy should reign over any dictatorship, but he also understands the benefits of having total control. But he's managed to make this new-fangled system work:
"When one considers human nature apart from the circumstances of the present day, it is clear, I think, that parenthood is psychologically capable of providing the greatest and most enduring happiness that life has to offer. This, no doubt, is more true of women than of men, but is more true of men than most moderns are inclined to suppose. It is taken for granted in almost all literature before the present age. Hecuba cares more for her children than for Priam; MacDuff cares more for his children than for his wife....For my own part, speaking personally, I have found the happiness of parenthood greater than any other that I have experienced....In all human relations it is fairly easy to secure happiness for one party, but much more difficult to secure it for both....We have come to feel, that there is something unsatisfactory about these one-sided delights: we believe that a good human relation should be satisfying to both parties. This applies more particularly to the relations of parents and children, with the result that parents obtain far less pleasure from children than they did formerly, while children reciprocally suffer less at the hands of their parents than they did in bygone generations."
Parents and kids can enjoy each other, but "this requires, as do all those equal relationships at which the modern world aims, a certain delicacy and tenderness, a certain reverence for another personality, which are by no means encouraged by the pugnacity of ordinary life."

And back to women's rights:
"A woman who has acquired any kind of professional skill ought, both for her own sake and for that of the community, to be free to continue to exercise this skill in spite of motherhood. She may be unable to do so during the later months of pregnancy and during lactation, but a child over nine months old ought not to form an insuperable barrier to its mother's professional activities. Whenever society demands of a mother sacrifices to her child which go beyond reason, the mother, if she is not unusually saintly, will expect from her child compensations exceeding those she has a right to expect." 

14: Work

It prevents boredom, and "makes holidays much more delicious when they come." It gives us a chance of success and reputation, a "continuity of purpose." We can leave behind something of our own making. But the greatest cause of unhappiness among intellectuals is that, "so many of them, especially those whose skill is literary, find no opportunity for the independent exercise of their talents, but have to hire themselves out to rich corporations directed by Philistines, who insist upon their producing what they themselves regard as pernicious nonsense." They essentially prostitute their skills for a living.

And yet, "Consistent purpose is not enough to make life happy, but it is an almost indispensable condition of a happy life. And consistent purpose embodies itself mainly in work."

15: Impersonal interests

We need minor, impractical interests to fill our leisure time. Here he's closer to Jung than Freud in Jung's talk of the importance of purposeless activity [Jung quotes Schiller when he says, "Man is completely human only when he is at play"]. Russell says,
"One of the sources of unhappiness, fatigue, and nervous strain is inability to be interested in anything that is not of practical importance in one's own life. The result of this is that the conscious mind gets no rest from a certain small number of matters, each of which probably involves some anxiety and some element of worry....The result is excitability, lack of sagacity, irritability, and a loss of sense of proportion. All these are both causes and effects of fatigue. As a man gets more tired, his external interests fade, and as they fade he loses the relief which they afford him and becomes still more tired. This vicious circle is only too apt to end in a breakdown. What is restful about external interests is the fact that they do not call for any action."
As a sign of the times, he sees women and men as distinctly different:
"In this respect there is a great difference between men and women. Men on the whole find it very much easier to forget their work than women do....They find it, that is to say, very difficult to be interested in anything that has for them no practical importance. Their purposes govern their thoughts and their activities, and they seldom become absorbed in some wholly irresponsible interest. I do not of course deny that exceptions exist, but I am speaking of what seems to me to be the usual rule."
Impersonal interests help maintain a sense of proportion; it's easy to get so absorbed "that we forget how small a part this is of the total of human activity." This helps guard against a fanatical temperament. Nothing's better for that than "a large conception of the life of man and his place in the universe." He sees education as key to changing this:
"It is one of the defects of modern higher education that it has become too much a training in the acquisition of certain kinds of skill, and too little an enlargement of the mind and heart by any impartial survey of the world. You become absorbed, let us say, in a political contest, and work hard for the victory of your own party. So far, so good. But it may happen in the course of the contest that some opportunity of victory presents itself which involves the use of methods calculated to increase hatred, violence and suspicion in the world. For example, you may find that the best road to victory is to insult some foreign nation. If your mental purview is limited to the present, or if you have imbibed the doctrine that what is called efficiency is the only thing that matters, you will adopt such dubious means. Through them you will be victorious in your immediate purpose, while the more distant consequences may be disastrous."
He raises Spinoza when he says this, and Plato's cave isn't far behind either:
"A man who has once perceived, however temporarily and however briefly, what makes greatness of soul, can no longer be happy if he allows himself to be petty, self-seeking, troubled by trivial misfortunes, dreading what fate may have in store for him. The man capable of greatness of soul will open wide the windows of his mind, letting the winds blow freely upon it from every portion of the universe. He will see himself and life and the world as truly as our human limitations will permit; realising the brevity and minuteness of human life, he will realise also that in individual minds is concentrated whatever of value the known universe contains. And he will see that the man whose mind mirrors the world becomes in a sense as great as the world. In emancipation from the fears that beset the slave of circumstance he will experience a profound joy, and through all the vicissitudes of his outward life he will remain in the depths of his being a happy man."
In times of difficulty, it's most beneficial to have outside interests: "when in spite of anxiety there is nothing to be done at the moment, one man will play chess....the man who does nothing to distract his mine and allows his trouble to acquire a complete empire over him is acting unwisely and making himself less fit to cope with his troubles....To be defeated by one loss or even by several is not something to be admired as a proof of sensibility, but something to be deplored as a failure in vitality."

16: Effort and Resignation

We need to carefully balance effort and resignation, learning when to charge and when to have restraint. This was said by many before him. Because we can suffer great loss in a moment, "happiness must be, for most men and women, an achievement rather than a gift of the gods, and in this achievement effort, both inward and outward, must play a great part." Inwardly we have to develop necessary resignation when change is beyond our control, and outwardly we need to make an effort at work, finding a mate, and rearing children.

If there's too much resignation to things, it leads to a high infant mortality, little progress in medicine, sanitation, etc. We need some effort for power too - over land, or mastery over books. Like Epictetus, we need to resign ourselves to things that are unavoidable:
"The wise man, though he will not sit down under preventable misfortunes, will not waste time and emotion upon such as are unavoidable, and even such as are in themselves avoidable he will submit to if the time and labour required to avoid them would interfere with the pursuit of some more important object. Many people get into fret or a fury over every little thing that goes wrong, and in this way waste a great deal of energy that might be more usefully employed. Even in the pursuit of really important objects it is unwise to become so deeply involved emotionally that the thought of possible failure becomes a constant menace to peace of mind."

"Resignation is of two sorts, one rooted in despair, the other in unconquerable hope. The first is bad; the second is good." Despair leads to abandoning serious activity, and one becomes useless; but if an action is based on hope that's large and impersonal, if we take on something so huge it can't lead to success, it's not the same kind of defeat. Therefore, grander plans that benefit society are always a better object of our attention. Those who can't ever resign themselves are in trouble:
"Some people are unable to bear with patience even those minor troubles which make up, if we permit them to do so, a very large part of life. They are furious when they miss a train, transported with rage if their dinner is badly cooked, sunk in despair if the chimney smokes, and vowing vengeance against the whole industrial order when their clothes fail to return from the sanitary steam laundry. The energy that such people waste on trivial troubles would be sufficient, if more wisely directed, to make and unmake empires. The wise man fails to observe the dust that the housemaid has not dusted, the potato that the cook has not cooked, and the soot that the sweep has not swept. I do not mean that he takes no steps to remedy these matters, provided he has time to do so; I mean only that he deals with them without emotion. Worry and fret and irritation are emotions which serve no purpose."
We need to always keep perspective on our own small part in the history of the cosmos: "Nothing is more fatiguing nor, in the long run, more exasperating than the daily effort to believe things which daily become more incredible. To be done with this effort is an indispensable condition of secure and lasting happiness."

17: The Happy Man

Epicurus though whether or not we're happy has to do mainly with whether or not we wish to be so Russell agrees:
"The man who is unhappy will, as a rule, adopt an unhappy creed, while the man who is happy will adopt a happy creed; each may attribute his happiness or unhappiness to his beliefs, while the real causation is the other way round. Certain things are indispensable to the happiness of most men, but these are simple things: food and shelter, health, love, successful work and the respect of one's own herd. To some people parenthood also is essential. Where these things are lacking; only the exceptional man can achieve happiness, but where they are enjoyed, or can be obtained by well-directed effort, the man who is still unhappy is suffering from some psychological maladjustment which, if it is very grave, may need the services of a psychiatrist, but can in ordinary cases be cured by the patient himself, provided he sets about the matter in the right way....It should be our endeavour therefore, both in education and in attempts to adjust ourselves to the world, to aim at avoiding self-centred passions and at acquiring those affections and those interests which will prevent our thoughts from dwelling perpetually upon ourselves. It is not the nature of most men to be happy in a prison, and the passions which shut us up in ourselves constitute one of the worst kinds of prisons. Among such passions some of the commonest are fear, envy, the sense of sin, self-pity and self-admiration. In all these our desires are centred upon ourselves: there is no genuine interest in the outer world, but only a concern lest it should in some way injure us or fail to feed our ego."
And then he turns to some Stoic exercises:
"If his trouble is self-pity, he can deal with it in the same manner after first persuading himself that there is nothing extraordinarily unfortunate in his circumstances. If fear is his trouble, let him practise exercises designed to give courage....Admit to yourself every day at least one painful truth; you will find this quite as useful as the Boy Scout's daily kind action. Teach yourself to feel that life would still be worth living even if you were not, as of course you are, immeasurably superior to all your friends in virtue and intelligence. Exercises of this sort prolonged through several years will at last enable you to admit facts without flinching, and will, in so doing, free you from the empire of fear over a very large field."
He cautions against striving for self-denial rather than focusing on varied outward interests:
"The happy life is to an extraordinary extent the same as the good life. Professional moralists have made too much of self-denial, and in so doing have put the emphasis in the wrong place. Conscious self-denial leaves a man self-absorbed and vividly aware of what he has sacrificed; in consequence it fails often of its immediate object and almost always of its ultimate purpose. What is needed is not self-denial, but that kind of direction of interest outward which will lead spontaneously and naturally to the same acts that a person absorbed in the pursuit of his own virtue could only perform by means of conscious self-denial."
The grand finale:
"In fact the whole antithesis between self and the rest of the world, which is implied in the doctrine of self-denial, disappears as soon as we have any genuine interest in persons or things outside ourselves. Through such interests a man comes to feel himself part of the stream of life, not a hard separate entity like a billiard-ball, which can have no relation with other such entities except that of collision. All unhappiness depends upon some kind of disintegration or lack of integration; there is disintegration within the self through lack of coordination between the conscious and the unconscious mind; there is lack of integration between the self and society where the two are not knit together by the force of objective interests and affections. The happy man is the man who does not suffer from either of these failures of unity, whose personality is neither divided against itself nor pitted against the world. Such a man feels himself a citizen of the universe, enjoying freely the spectacle that it offers and the joys that it affords, untroubled by the thought of death because he feels himself not really separate from those who will come after him. It is in such profound instinctive union with the stream of life that the greatest joy is to be found."


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Big Coop said...

What a great write-up. I had never heard of Bertrand Russell’s book before, so all of his content, as well as your commentary were brand new to me. Thank you for taking the time to write such an exhaustive review.

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks for reading!

John Russell said...

Perhaps 'Happiness' is something we are conditioned for in Childhood? we all know people who learned their misery as children!

Life is a lottery, if you have a reverie that provides hope and help in the face of life's inevitable challenges you were born with a good ticket, be grateful but not boastful for that, ,if not?

Well Marcus Aurelius, a man how also faced some challenges, said; The thoughts in your head are the only things you have any influence over, or at least that honors the essence of what he said!
'So' If childhood left you with an outlook as reflected in your reverie, that is perhaps less than ideal, take inspiration from Marcus and begin the reprogramming of your habits of thought!

Progress is a two edged sword, one edge brings us ever closer to our demise, but so does every Sun rise, and the other edge sometimes gives us a new metaphor to understand the world with,
gives us new tools to understand the World, I've read that we humans understand things through Metaphor and Simile, I've never had any reason to doubt that, so the programmable computer is a perfect metaphor for the Human mind, 'Change the way you process information and you will get different results', not an easy thing to do of course, but a worthy challenge, and if you succeed what a Victory for you!